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Rotary briefed on military-style Youth ChalleNGe Academy
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Dr. Roger Lotson, Youth ChalleNGe Academy deputy director, and Cadet Colin Carpentier speak to Hinesville Rotary Club members about the program. - photo by Denise Etheridge

The Hinesville Rotary Club received a military-style briefing Tuesday about Youth ChalleNGe Academy, a Georgia National Guard residence program on Fort Stewart for high school dropouts. Youth ChalleNGe integrates military-style discipline with teamwork, education, mentor support and encouragement.

Dr. Roger Lotson, Youth ChalleNGe Academy deputy director, and Cadet Colin Carpentier spoke about the program. Carpentier, 18, hopes to enlist in the Air Force after after taking his GED exams this week. The young man’s backup plan is to earn a commercial driver’s license. He has been in the program for four weeks.

“It’s all very organized,” Carpentier said of the academy. “You must do what is asked of you.”

He explained that cadets must show through their conduct that they choose to remain in the program, or they’ll be dismissed. Carpentier and his fellow cadets keep a strict schedule, like soldiers do in the Army. They wake at 5 a.m. or are woken by the yelling of their drill sergeants, he said. Then, they have physical training. Breakfast also is a structured time, the cadet said.

“Talk is limited at morning chow time,” Carpentier said. “There is no sleeping in class. There’s no talking back to teachers.”

Lotson said students are in class for half a day. They also must participate in community service projects, on and off post.
Academy cadets, if they don’t wash out of the program, must have a residential and career plan developed by the time they earn their GEDs, Carpentier said. Counselors and cadre members help cadets form plans for success, he said.

“You learn how to cooperate with other people,” said Carpentier, who is one of 40 cadets in his platoon.

Lotson said there are five all-male platoons and one all-female platoon.

The deputy director said 300 cadets typically begin each 22-week class, and 50 on average will drop out after two weeks.
“Our target (graduation) number for this class is 215,” Lotson said.

“The first two weeks is the hardest,” Carpentier said. “You miss home.”

Cadets are not allowed cell phones but are permitted one five-minute call each Sunday, Carpentier said, adding that this is not an easy adjustment for young people. Kids today are accustomed to using cell phones continuously, he said. Cadets may earn a second call during the week if their conduct warrants it, Carpentier said.

Lotson said the program began in 1993. It is one of two such academies in the state. The other is based in Augusta, he said.

Youth ChalleNGe currently receives 75 percent of its funding from the federal government and 25 percent from the state, Lotson said.

Cadets also attend Sunday morning religious services, and a Bible study is offered during the week, he said.

The program pulls teens out of negative environments and shocks them into a proper rhythm with military-style discipline, Lotson continued. Most of the cadets come from broken homes, where only one biological parent is present. Many of these families are led by single mothers, he said.

Another component of the program is that each cadet must have an adult mentor. These mentors receive training through the academy and stay involved with their matched cadets for a year after the participants graduate. Mentors help ensure that academy graduates stay on track, Lotson said.

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